Kampala — Revelations of military activities during the just concluded elections are pointing to a much wider and deeper role that the military could have played in determining final results of voting than previously known.
In the run-up to the polls, human rights organisations - local and international, religious leaders and opposition groups - expressed concern over increased military and militia activity countrywide, which they argued was beginning to cultivate an air of fear and uncertainty amongst the population. The government denied these allegations, calling them propaganda engineered by the opposition to cause confusion.
But on February 18, Ugandans woke up to the sight of military personnel in almost every corner of the country. Three weeks after the polls, this newspaper is beginning to receive information on military activities during the polls indicating that they were directly involved sometimes in directing how votes should be cast. In Kasese, FDC's Christopher Kibazanga, who stood for the Kasese District chairperson seat, says the villages of Kasese were under a fictitious 'state of emergency'.
"The peoples' army fought the people in my area. Never has the army been deployed in the hills of Kasese during elections. The last time these villagers saw the army like that was during the ADF insurgency. Villagers who were otherwise free were told they could not move freely in their own villages at night," he says.
Mr Kibazanga says the army went as far as campaigning for the ruling party. "Villagers were told to vote NRM or else rebel insurgency would return to Kasese. Military activities were re-enforced by crime preventers some of who were given military uniforms," he says. Mr Kibazanga questions in whose interest the army were working.
He recounts an incident when he was arrested after a local NRM leader shot at an FDC candidate's home. "Hajji Matovu, the NRM vice chairman, together with a group of armed youths, went to the home of Ms Mikayi Kahindo, a district council candidate. He fired several rounds in the air forcing ,Ms Kahindo to call for help," he says.
Mr Kibazanga says he went to Ms Kahindo's home only to find the Area O.C at the scene. "Mr Matovu had apparently left the scene. When I inquired why a civilian like Mr Matovu was allowed to shoot and scare civilians in the dead of the night and was not arrested, the O.C had me arrested," he says.
Mr Kibazanga was transported to a police post, where he was asked to record a statement. He was later released but the next day, he went back to Ms Kahindo's home where he collected a live bullet and several empty cartriges, which he says he will produce at an appropriate time. "I cannot seek leadership at any cost like what the NRM did in these elections. It was so shameful," he says. But the UPDF spokesman, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye expresses doubts. "If these reports are genuine, then Kibazanga should report them to police for further investigations," Lt. Col. Kulayigye told Sunday Monitor. "We as UPDF have not received any of these complaints."
In Budadiri West, MP-elect Nathan Nandala Mafabi escaped with his life after shots were fired at his car, one of them hitting Julius Odeke, a journalist he was travelling with. In an interview with this newspaper, Mr Mafabi recounted how military activities in Mbale paralised electioneering in Sironko District. "The army beat up and terrorised civilians on the eve of the elections. They used civilian vehicles some of which had either had their number plates removed or covered," Mafabi says.
"There is no military barracks in Sironko District. Where did they come from? We were shocked to see Mambas (armoured cars) and soldiers. We were followed all over and at one point, we were stopped by UPDF officers who told us to get out of our cars. We refused. The boys on my car were forcefully removed and beaten badly."
Mr Mafabi cited Mr Jackson Kisoro, a URA employee, Mr Lumulu Mafabi, a businessman and NRM chairman for Sironko District and Presidency Minister Beatrice Wabudaye as those who commandeered military activities in Budadiri District. He also named civilians who wore military uniforms and who beat up civilians in his area. "Civilians like Mr George Nandege, Mr Samuel Odia, Mr Mabali, son of Nambasi, Ali son of Yusuf and one Wolude, a driver, were dressed in military uniforms and were seen terrorising civilians," he said.
Mr Mafabi said Sironko District deputy police commander Gerald Mbasa was beaten up by UPDF officers but later accused his supporters of attacking him. "Why would the people attack him? Those who beat him did not know who he was. There are witnesses who saw a driver and UPDF soldier beat up the DPC."
"They have now abandoned my case of attempted murder and assault and are now accusing me of inciting violence and disarming a soldier. They even say I have the soldier's gun yet we discovered that the gun was deposited miles away at another police post," Mafabi says.
In Isingiro, Lt. Col. Frank Kashaka and another UPDF officer Toofa Agaba are being accused of beating, intimidating and threatening supporters of a candidate for LC chairman Dominic Kashaaki. In an interview with this newspaper, Mr Kashaaki told of how Lt. Col. Kashaka terrorised his area. "Kashaaka forcefully withdraw a vehicle license number UG1729C from the district headquarters and removed its number plates," Mr Kashaaki says.
He says he moved through three sub-counties where he forcefully voted. He says he drove erratically through the sub-counties and causing a lot of commotion in the process. One polling official was reportedly beaten up and put at gun-point while an unknown polling agents were arrested. "We have not received any of these complaints," the Electoral Commission spokesman Willy Ochola says. "Some of these allegations are being made by people who want to justify their political losses. The media should be careful not to be used by some politicians to gain political mileage," Lt. Col. Kulayigye says.
According to Pokot MP Francis Kiyonga, successive army battalions that have been stationed in Karamoja during the disarmament process have never been deleted from the voter register. "Old battalions have never been deleted from the voter register. The Electoral Commission continues to add names and those who are currently there vote for those who have moved on," he said. "In Rupee Sub-county, for example, out of an estimated 17,000 voters, 7,000 are soldiers. Physically, however, there are not more than 150 soldiers on the ground."
Mr Kiyonga says he has just returned from Kenya where he fled for fear of his life. "Soldiers attempted to arrest me four times. When they finally succeeded, one of the officers who knew me released me and told me to ensure I report to a police station 50km away. On foot, I crossed into Turkana land that night. I found myself a place to stay and just returned through unconventional routes recently," he said.
But according to the military, Mr Kiyonga has been in Kampala.
"Crossing between Kenya and Uganda happens very often amongst the Turkana and Karamajong. Kiyonga has, however, been in the country and more so in Kampala," a military officer says. Mr Kiyonga says almost two weeks after the polls, two of his agents, Mr Solomon Tukei and Mr Locia Albino, are still in custody and have never been presented to court. "The two had video and audio equipment which we were using to document all these happenings."
Mr Kiyonga says he and close to 100 civilians intercepted three ballot boxes, two of which were transported by soldiers and hidden in homes of civilians. "When we learnt of this, I mobilised the locals. We even called election observers from Kampala because the local ones in Karamoja had been compromised. At 1.30a.m., we surrounded the home of Mr Lobot Nangole and Ms Anna Namiti. In both homes, we found people ticking and stuffing ballot boxes. We kept them inside the whole night but in the morning, the army dispersed us violently and took away the boxes."
To this allegation, Capt Deo Akiiki, the UPDF spokesperson in Karamoja said: "This is absolute rubbish and in any case Kiyonga should have reported this to election security officials unless he is accusing himself of abating crime, if this happened anyway. We did not have any soldiers or an incident where we dispersed any group on that day. Kiyonga could be day dreaming of the imaginary reasons that could have led him lose his seat. No single iota of truth in his allegations".
Jacqueline Chepengat, a nurse at a health Centre in Karita who was a polling official during the February 18 elections said she witnessed multiple voting.
In a telephone interview with Sunday Monitor, Ms Chepengat recounts how she saw soldiers returning again and again to vote. "I have medically treated most of these soldiers so I know them by name and by face. I saw them dressed in full military uniforms then return moments later in civilian clothing to vote a second and third time."
"Some army officer I know even dressed up in police uniforms."
Ms Chepengat now says she is receiving threats from those officers. One particular officer has promised to kill her while another police officer is constantly calling her. She has since written to the Director Health Services (DHS) to transfer her away from Karamoja.
"I am in so much fear. They visit my home in the dead of the night, knock at my door and call out my name. I need to leave this please or else they will kill me," Ms Chepengat told this newspaper.
According to Mr. Kiyonga, poling in other areas were closed by 4pm over what officials called security reasons but later on in the evening, soldiers from Moroto and Bukwo were allowed to vote. Robert Apollo, the returning officer at Karita polling station is sighted as one of the officials who stopped the polls before time.
"Officials were told the soldiers had been out on an operation and requested them to vote. No proper procedure was followed. Officers just picked ballot papers; some took as many as three, ticked them and stuffed them in the ballot boxes." "We would wish Mr. Kiyonga would put these allegations in writing so that we could investigate them," EC's Willy Ochola told Sunday Monitor. "We encourage all those with complaints to do the same since they are not the only people affected."
Mr Ochola said the EC would independently investigate all the allegations and respond appropriately. "So of these allegations have serious political implications," Mr Ochola was keen to note.
On this allegation, Capt. Deo Akiiki, the UPDF spokesman in Karamoja, says: "This is absolute rubbish and in any case, Kiyonga should have reported this to election security officials unless he is accusing himself of abating crime, if this happened anyway. We did not have any soldiers or an incident where we dispersed any group on that day. Kiyonga could be day-dreaming about the imaginary reasons that could have led his loss his MP seat. No single iota of truth is in his allegations."
Ms Jacqueline Chepengat, a nurse at a health centre in Karita, who was a polling official during the February 18 elections, said she witnessed multiple voting. In a telephone interview with Sunday Monitor, Ms Chepengat recounts how she saw soldiers returning again and again to vote.
"I have medically treated most of these soldiers so I know them by both name and face. I saw them dressed in full military uniform then return moments later in civilian clothing to vote a second and third time. Some army officers I know even dressed up in police uniforms," she says.
Ms Chepengat now says she is getting threats from some of the those officers. She says one particular officer has promised to kill her while a police officer is constantly calling her. She says she has since written to the Director Health Services (DHS) to transfer her from Karamoja. "I am in so much fear. They visit my home in the dead of the night, knock at my door and call out my name. I need to leave this place or else they will kill me," Ms Chepengat told this newspaper .
According to Mr Kiyonga, voting in other areas were closed by 4p.m over what officials called security reasons, but later in the evening, soldiers from Moroto and Bukwo were allowed to vote. Robert Apollo, the returning officer at Karita Polling Station is cited as one of the officials who stopped the polls before time.
"Officials were told that the soldiers had been out on an operation and requested them to vote. No proper procedure was followed. Officers just picked ballot papers - some took as many as three - ticked and stuffed them in the ballot boxes," Apollo said.
"We would wish Mr Kiyonga puts these allegations in writing so that we could investigate them," EC's Willy Ochola told Sunday Monitor. "We encourage all those with complaints to do the same since they are not the only people affected."
Mr Ochola said the EC would independently investigate all the allegations and respond appropriately. "Some of these allegations have serious political implications," Mr Ochola says.